Atrial fibrillation is a type of irregular heartbeat known as a heart arrhythmia. Atrial fibrillation treatment will depend on the severity of the symptoms and underlying cause of the heart arrhythmia. Treatment is aimed at returning the heart to normal sinus rhythm, slowing the heart rate down, and treating the cause of the abnormal heart rhythm. Treatment may include medication, electrical cardioversion, or surgery.
Some people may not experience many symptoms when they are in atrial fibrillation. Others may feel like their heart is racing and develop chest pain, dizziness, and shortness of breath. The abnormal heartbeat may occur only occasionally or be chronic.
Antiarrhythmic medications may be used initially as an atrial fibrillation treatment to restore a regular heartbeat. The medications may be given orally or through an intravenous line. The patient will be given the medication in the hospital, while being monitored continuously for any adverse effects.
If medication does not work, atrial fibrillation treatment may include an electrical cardioversion with a defibrillator. Pads are placed on the patient’s chest and attached to a defibrillator, which delivers an electric shock to the heart. This jolt of electricity can restore the heartbeat to normal sinus rhythm. A patient will often be given sedation during the procedure to avoid feeling any discomfort. Once a cardioversion is performed, a patient may be prescribed antiarrhythmic medications to prevent atrial fibrillation from occurring again.
When atrial fibrillation occurs, the heart rate is often much faster than normal. Atrial fibrillation treatment may include prescribing medication to decrease the heart rate to a normal rate of between 60 and 100 beats per minute. A classification of medications known as beta blockers may be given, which help slow the heart rate down. Although beta blockers will help slow the rate down, they may not convert the atrial fibrillation to a normal rhythm.
In some cases, atrial fibrillation is caused by an extra pathway of cells. If this is the case, atrial fibrillation treatment may include radiofrequency ablation. During this procedure, a catheter is threaded to the heart through the groin. Radiofrequency energy is directed at the extra pathways to destroy them. This can prevent atrial fibrillation from occurring again.
Atrial fibrillation treatment may also include determining the underlying cause and treating it. For instance, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and abnormal heart valves can cause atrial fibrillation. Once these conditions are treated, the abnormal rhythm may no longer develop.